Monday, March 15, 2010

The “Real” Mexico

David sat in the living room last night reading the books I'd lugged home from the library. Since he's lived in San Diego all his life, just thirty miles from the border, the word “Mexico,” to him, means cities like Tijuana or the Baja coast where he and his buddies used to sail their catamarans. I'd brought home all the books I could find on Mexico because I wanted him to learn about other parts of the country, especially the central part where we will be in June.

He decided, though, to first read the general visitor information and kept calling out questions. Did you know that the gray and black scorpions aren't deadly, but the yellow ones require medical treatment? Is the water in all parts of the country unsafe to drink? Will we need to take our band aids and emergency supplies because this (pointing to the book) says we will?

It's not only David who is largely uninformed about our neighbor to the south; my friends have asked similar questions. When I told Nona where we were going, she said, “You mean you're going in June. Won't it be unbearably hot then?” Joan wondered if we would survive with all the drug violence, and Marissa suggested we not drink a single drop of water the entire month we were there. (I don't think she thought that one through!)

The truth is that Mexico is as diverse as the United States or Canada or France. Just as New York is different from Tucson, or Quebec is unlike Vancouver, or Paris is seemingly a world removed from Arles, so Tijuana is vastly different from Ajijic. Of course, it is possible to find parts of the country where you must fear yellow scorpions, tote your own water and medical supplies, suffer from tropical heat, and fear for your life, but there are just as many parts of the country where none of that occurs.

In fact, the house where we'll be pet-sitting is fumigated on a regular basis, has a filtration system so water straight from the tap is purified, is in a mountainous range 5000 feet high where the climate is temperate year 'round (This close to the equator, climate is determined by altitude. Even though Ajijic is much farther south than Tucson, it is 20-30 degrees cooler in the summer.), and is as far removed from the drug wars as a farm in the American Midwest is from the ghettos of Los Angeles.

It didn't take too many more questions from David before I realized that perhaps the general information books about the country weren't giving him a clear picture of “our” part of Mexico at all. Maybe I could find some websites that would provide a more realistic impression of the place we'd be living for a month.

I started with the granddaddy of all websites, the one that, twelve years ago, had fueled my dreams of living in Mexico--Mexconnect. Although it was free when I was planning my move to Mexico, for several years one had to be a paid subscriber to access the site. I was delighted to discover today, though, that it is now available once more to everyone and still contains more information about Mexico than you're likely to find anywhere else.

Mexconnect publishes a monthly e-zine with articles on every subject imaginable. Living, Travel, Cuisine and History are only some of the categories. Additionally, fifteen regular columnists contribute their own unique perspectives about living in Mexico. And there are forums covering general information and business as well as six area forums dealing with every part of the country. If you've got a question, this is the place to ask!

Mexonline is another good, general information site. There is quite a bit of information on accommodations, Mexico's history, and personal articles detailing life in villages and towns throughout the country.

Mexonline also tackles current controversies. On the message board today, an article responding to the US travel warning issued 14 March 2010, makes reference to this bit of research (from an article in April, 2009): “For example, Baja California Sur has a homicide rate 39 times lower than Washington, DC, 19 times lower than Houston, 17 times lower than Dallas and 7 times lower than the city of New York and 3 times lower than Vancouver.”

For in-depth information about Ajijic and Lake Chapala, where David and I will be living this summer, I'll suggest Focus on Mexico. The website, which has free sign-up for a monthly newsletter, contains information about every aspect of living at Lakeside.

Since we plan to visit San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, two UNESCO World Heritage cities, he might also appreciate the website, Experience San Miguel de Allende. Not only is there information about cooking, Spanish, and art classes, but there are four categories —luxury, first class, affordable and budget—of hotel and B&B information that is not available in any guidebook. This is the site we'll use to choose our accommodations and to refresh my memory about favorite restaurants I enjoyed years ago.

David just wandered into my office to ask what I was doing. I told him I was finding ways for him to learn about the incredibly beautiful and diverse country of Mexico, especially the Lake Chapala region where he wouldn't have to worry about scorpions, band aids, or potable water. He walked out with a smile, and later, I'm sure, he'll be busy on the computer long into the night.

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